The ArtsCenter could become the architectural, cultural and economic centerpiece of downtown Carrboro under a plan that would turn a parking lot into five-story building with a theater, studio space and a business incubator.
Architect Philip Szostak presented his vision recently to the Carrboro Board of Aldermen. The new building would be located at the southeast corner of Roberson and East Main streets, across Roberson Street from the Armadillo Grill.
“Given an absolutely perfect world where nothing went wrong, we might be to the point of being permitted in a year’s time and have the building up in another three years,” said Art Menius, executive director of The ArtsCenter. The current building, part of the 300 East Main redevelopment site that also houses music venue Cat’s Cradle, is located in an old grocery store building a half block east of Roberson Street.
Szostak built the Durham Performing Arts Center in downtown Durham without the use of any general fund tax dollars. He said his plan for The ArtsCenter is to create a self-sustaining nonprofit organization that also serves as an economic development engine.
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His early plans call for a five-story building with a 350-seat theater, studios and classroom space on the first couple of floors. The upper floors would contain flexible office, classroom, workshop and rehearsal space. He envisions large banks of glass walls so that people passing by would be able to see dancers and others rehearsing through the windows.
Included in the building would be a business incubator space called the Foundry, where people could share space and equipment as they build new businesses.
Don Rose, vice chairman of the board of directors of the ArtsCenter, said the Foundry would be a place where artists could build businesses. Rose said he spoke to designer Alexander Julian, who grew up in Chapel Hill, and Julian told him the future of fashion will be the ability of people to print their own textiles using digital textile printers.
Szostak said he attended a party where a woman wore a unique pair of shoes.
“She showed up with printed shoes,” he said. “They were the coolest things I’ve seen, and we went, ‘Click. If we had a printer at The ArtsCenter, people could print their shoes. Maybe now they could start a company printing shoes.’”
There are many details to work through including a financing plan, an operating plan and how the money would be split, but Szostak said he believes the project can come to fruition.
When he presented a plan for the Durham Performing Arts Center, it began with 300 angry people in a room asking why so much money should be spent on the arts, he said. Now DPAC, which has a 2,800-seat theater that brings Broadway shows and internationally-known musicians to its stage, brings in millions of dollars a year. It has revitalized the area and is considered the fifth most successful venue of its size in the world, he said.
The cost of The ArtsCenter project has not yet been determined because the plans are incomplete. In the coming year, decisions will be made about the size of the building and how much The ArtsCenter can afford, Menius said.
Szostak plans to hold public monthly meetings where people can bring their ideas and their concerns, which will be incorporated into the final design, he said.